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Boeing Co.’s 737 Max could be approved to resume commercial service as soon as the week of Nov. 16, with U.S. aviation regulators finalizing their review of fixes to the grounded jetliner.
The Federal Aviation Administration is set to announce the certification as soon as Nov. 18, said people familiar with the process, who asked not to be named because the deliberations are private. Boeing has begun briefing lawmakers on the plans, which are still subject to change, one of the people said.
The U.S. aviation regulator expects to complete its review of changes to the aircraft “in the coming days,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said Nov. 9 in an emailed statement, without specifying a date. Boeing’s best-selling plane has been banned from the skies since March 2019 after two crashes killed 346 people.
A decision by regulators to end the longest jetliner grounding in U.S. history would mark a major milestone for Boeing’s effort to revive the core of its commercial aircraft business. Still, with the coronavirus pandemic flattening demand for new planes, the U.S. planemaker faces an arduous recovery as it seeks to reap cash by delivering hundreds of Max built during the flying ban, which will reach the 20-month mark Nov. 13.
“Aside from some limited replacement demand, no one needs any jets for growth and the market is going to stay very soft for a number of years,” Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst with Teal Group, said in an interview before news of the FAA’s potential move.
Boeing rose 2.2% to $183.30 after the close of regular trading in New York. The stock has plunged 45% so far this year, the biggest drop on the 30-member Dow Jones Industrial Average.
The possible timing of the FAA’s approval of the Max is little surprise. In recent weeks, regulators in the U.S. and Europe had signaled they were close to clearing the plane to fly after taking it through a series of flight tests. European regulators have said they’re satisfied with Boeing’s proposed changes to the jet. Reuters reported earlier that the decision could be announced as soon as Nov. 18.
Commercial flights wouldn’t begin immediately after the FAA approves the plane for service. American Airlines Group Inc., for example, is planning to make Max flights starting Dec. 29 on the busy Miami-New York corridor.
In the FAA statement, Dickson said the agency continues to have final discussions with authorities in other nations and won’t authorize a return to service until it’s satisfied the plane is safe.
When the FAA acts, it intends to issue a complete package that will allow restoration of commercial flights on the plane, said the person familiar with the agency’s intentions.
The FAA is reviewing physical fixes to a system that repeatedly dove in both accidents until pilots lost control. It is also requiring an update to the jet’s flight-control computer and to wiring to improve safety.
Separately, the agency will approve new training for pilots to add an additional layer of safety and to set requirements for the maintenance required to ensure the mothballed planes can be returned to service.
A group of independent government experts known as the Technical Advisory Board, which has reviewed the FAA’s work on the plane, is also expected to issue a final report.
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